April storms make small dent in California drought

A late-season burst of snow and moisture that blanketed northern California in April helped make a small dent in drought conditions, experts said, but the majority of the state is still well below where it needs to be as it heads into the hot, dry summer months.

Multiple storms arrived weeks after the last snowfall of the season on April 1, in which state officials reported statewide snowpack had shrunk to just 38% of average. for the date after a very dry start to the year.

But on Friday, the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab in Donner Pass said it had received 76 inches of powder since the beginning of the month thanks to the April storms — nearly doubling the 41 inches it received in the first three months of the year combined.

“It’s not a record April, but it’s definitely above average,” station manager Andrew Schwartz said. “It is of course welcome.”

In fact, April rainfall across much of the Sierra was twice that of January, February and March, according to the National Weather Service. The first three months of the year, usually in the heart of the state’s rainy season, were the driest on record in California.

But while April’s numbers have so far been impressive, nearly the entire state remains in significant drought conditions, officials said.

“The problem is that at this point we’re trying to relieve a multi-year drought,” Schwartz said. “So even though we’re slightly above average this year, that doesn’t solve and sort of ‘get rid of’ the last two years of below average water. … The fact that we’ve been in drought already means that, at least at this stage, it will not get us out of it.”

The latest update from the US Drought Monitor, released Thursday, showed more than 95% of California was classified as severe or extreme drought, up from about 66% three months ago.

And while April storms aren’t all that unusual in Northern California, the drought that preceded them this year was this: the Sacramento area experienced a 66-day dry spell that didn’t last. ended only on March 15, the longest on record in winter.

These deficits mean that all the recent rain and snow has not been enough to bring most areas back to normal. Redding, for example, received 2.65 inches of precipitation between April 1 and April 24 – nearly 140% of normal for the dates – but is still only 60% from where it should be. for the year of water as a whole, according to the National Weather Service.

California Department of Water Resources officials gave a similarly grim assessment when they met for the snow survey earlier this month. However, Sean de Guzman, the department’s snow survey and water supply forecasting manager, said Monday that the April snowfall made a difference.

“It extended and lengthened our snowmelt season adding the most snowfall we’ve seen since December 2021,” de Guzman said, noting that statewide snow levels this year “ are now better than where we were at this time last year.”

But while the Northern Sierra has seen gains, the statewide snowpack is still “below average at 35% of average this morning,” de Guzman said.

He and other state officials have increasingly stressed the need for conservation as supplies tighten and forecasts become less predictable. Dramatic changes in weather — including those from hot to cold and humid to dry — make it harder to plan ahead.

The fact that April brought more precipitation than January through March combined is “a great example of the weather whiplash we’re experiencing now due to climate change,” de Guzman said.

It’s not just the snow that officials are watching. Spring rains also play an important role in California’s water supply, helping to wet watersheds for more efficient runoff and providing water when irrigation demands begin to increase, said by Guzman.

The April showers meant more inflows to reservoirs across the state than originally anticipated earlier in the month, and projected reservoir storage at the end of April statewide is 71% of the average, said de Guzman.

“Compared to this time last year, our statewide storage reservoir is about the same, but we also have more snow to melt and flow into our rivers, streams and tanks,” he said.

These gains should help, but there is still a long way to go. According to recent research, the western United States is experiencing its driest 22-year period in at least 1,200 years.

“We were definitely at a disadvantage at the start of this water year, so we’ll take everything [the moisture] we can get,” said Sierra Littlefield, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento, but “we still face extreme drought in much of California.”

Littlefield said the April storms brought some areas closer to 100% of the average for the hydrological year and noted that more spring wetness is still a possibility for the state.

But while there are a few low-impact storm systems in the forecast this week, “they don’t really appear to be huge precipitation generators,” she said, and will be mostly centered on the extreme northern California.

“There’s a little more uncertainty next week for something similar,” Littlefield added, “but it really doesn’t look like something that’s going to add that much to our water supply.”

Los Angeles Times

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